Wildlife
© naturepl.com / Sue Flood / WWF
Beluga

Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.

Beluga facts

  • scientific name
    Delphinapterus leucas
  • weight
    700-1600 kg
  • length
    2.6 to 4.5 m
  • status
    Least concern (IUCN)
© IUCN

Threats to belugas

Coastal development
While beluga whales are not considered an endangered species, the loss of habitat, as humans build on and along coastlines, puts the beluga at risk.
Toxics and pollution
Belugas have been found to contain elevated concentrations of organic pollutants.

Beluga facts

Where do belugas live?

Most populations of beluga migrate. In autumn, they move south as the ice forms in the Arctic. In spring, they return to their northern feeding areas when the ice breaks up In summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river. One beluga in Alaska was spotted 1000km inland, swimming up the Yukon River. However, a few populations do not follow this migratory pattern, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.

What do belugas eat?

Salmon, capelin, herring, shrimp, arctic cod, flounder, crabs and molluscs. They feed in open water (pelagic) and bottom (benthic) habitats, in both shallow and deepwater areas. Belugas have been recorded diving to more than 350 metres to feed.

How long do belugas live?

Tooth sectioning studies show that beluga whales typically live 30 to 35 years. Belugas can become trapped by freezing ice and starve or suffocate. Polar bears hunt belugas, especially if the whale is trapped in a small "lead" or open water.

How do belugas communicate?

Their bulbous forehead, called a "melon", is flexible and capable of changing shape. This allows them to make different facial expressions and produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which give the beluga its other name, "the canary of the sea." These songs are probably used to communicate with other beluga and to help them find food through echolocation.

How we work

Publications

Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Circle 03.18
The Circle 03.18
17 July 2018
Greenland Mariners' Guide
Greenland Mariners' Guide
27 September 2017
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
25 May 2017
Health effects in Arctic wildlife linked to chemical exposures
Health effects in Arctic wildlife linked to chemical exposures
1 June 2016
The Circle 02.14
The Circle 02.14
24 April 2014

Meet the team

Tom Arnbom

Tom Arnbom

WWF-Sweden

Senior Advisor, Arctic and marine

Brandon Laforest

Brandon Laforest

WWF-Canada

Senior specialist, Arctic species & ecosystems

Melanie Lancaster

Melanie Lancaster

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Senior Specialist, Arctic species

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